Liz and I spent a couple of hours reading up on New York City’s history. This isn’t research for a book or anything, it’s just because I’m a huge nerd. We were walking around the city and got talking about NYC’s Dutch origins as New Amsterdam, and how Harlem (originally spelled “Haarlem“) was settled around the same time, while the area now comprising midtown and the East and West sides weren’t settled for centuries.
I realized I didn’t know much else about the region, but a few hours diving down the Wikipedia hole helped that. Here’s some of my favorite New York City trivia:
- The Dutch established settlements all over the East Coast, within a wide territory called New Netherland that was basically just wilderness and a few villages, and of which New Amsterdam was the capital. The first settlement was at Governor’s Island, but in the roughly 50 years before the English took over New Netherland, the Dutch established cities along the Hudson River, around the Greater New York City region, and in modern-day Delaware and New Jersey. A few of the many cities and neighborhoods named by the dutch are Harlem, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Long Island, Flatbush, and New Dorp.
- New Dorp may be my favorite awful place name ever. And yes, I’m well aware there is a city in Austria called Fucking. That’s still not as terrible as having to tell people you’re from “New Dorp.”
- Staten Island, often called “the forgotten borough,” was known until the 1970s by its county name, Richmond–a name derived from the bastard son of King Charles II. Staten Islanders are known for a general resentment against the rest of New York City; in 1993, they even voted to secede from the city, but the New York State Assembly, and the election of Rudy Giuliani (who promised to fix a lot of things that made Staten Islanders so angry) put a stop to that. Recently, though, there have been new calls for secession.
- Each of the five boroughs has its own flag. The flag of Queens looks very Greek, but that’s apparently coincidental. The flag of Staten Island looks like it was designed in Mario Paint. There’s also a flag of New York City–it’s basically Manhattan’s flag. I’m sure the folks in Staten Island love that.
- While the Bronx is the only borough located on mainland New York State, a tiny piece of the mainland, Marble Hill, is actually part of Manhattan. The Harlem River was re-routed after the borough boundaries were drawn.
- Speaking of re-routing, a sizable portion of Lower Manhattan didn’t exist when the Dutch arrived. Over hundreds of years, the shore around the island was filled in to create more usable property. Battery Park is entirely manmade land, as is pretty much everything West of Greenwich Street or East of Pearl. Anyone who watched Governor Cuomo’s most recent State of the State address knows that the flood pattern created by Hurricane Sandy pretty much mirrored the manmade portions.
- The original shoreline of New Amsterdam featured a number of “slips,” narrow canals that came in from the harbor to allow ships to dock and unload. You can see them in the photo at the top of this post. Eventually they were filled in and transformed into streets, but they kept their names–Old Slip, Peck Slip, and many others. To this day, huge bollards line the sidewalks along many slips, where ships were once tied. Filled-in slips appear to have provided an easy route to lay subways, and the IRT-Seventh Avenue Line runs underneath Old Slip on its way to Brooklyn.
- Lastly, speaking of the relatively late date at which the Upper West Side was settled, our very favorite photo was this one, of the Dakota in 1890, shortly after it opened.